Film theorist and filmmaker Peter Wollen has died at 81.
Wollen was best known for his 1969 film theory book “Signs and Meaning in the Cinema.” The book became famous because it approaches film studies through structuralism and semiotics. The book was one of dozens of film theory books written or contributed to by Wollen over four decades.
The film theorist started in the film industry by sharing screenwriting credit on Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1975 film “The Passenger,” which starred Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider.
Wollen made his directorial debut with “Penthesilea: Queen of the Amazons.” He directed this film alongside his wife, legendary film scholar Laura Mulvey. The couple created several films together.
The only film that was soli directed by Wollen was the 1987 science-fiction romance “Friendship’s Death.” The movie starred Bill Paxton and Tilda Swinton. Swinton played an extraterrestrial robot who crashes on Earth and meets a British was correspondent.
Swinton was greatly affected by this film theory work. The Oscar-winning actress credits “Signs and Meaning in the Cinema” as being “the first seminal book I read about film that actually made sense while bopping you to bits with its braininess and taking the engine of cinema completely apart in front of you.”
In her tribute to Wollen, Swinton credits his book and admits that he was a saint to her as a student. Then she states: “A couple of years later, I was working with him, on the second film I ever made, the pocket masterpiece that is “Friendship’s Death.” Based on a short story by Peter which he used to refer to as autobiographical, I would describe this film – an encounter and four-day conversation between a journalist and an extra-terrestrial peace envoy in Amman, Jordan – as a romance about humanity, and it is certainly full of love, while remaining bright-minded and unashamedly political to its boots.”
Upon its release, “Friendship’s Death” ran for a year at the Bleecker Street cinema.
Swinton says: “Peter had been caught in the limbo of dementia for a very long time and was unable to speak up for his work himself. The news of his eventual departure today is sad, indeed, but, honestly, maybe no sadder than it has been for us all to be missing him already for so long.”
By Jeanette Vietti
Indie Wire: Tilda Swinton Honors Late Film Theorist and Filmmaker Peter Wollen, Dead at 81
Image Courtesy of Gage Skidmore’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License